Why "71º & Sunny?"

I consider 71º to be the perfect temperature. Not too cold and not too hot. I also love perfect sunny days. The vast majority of days are not 71º & Sunny and yet, all days were created by God's hand and they are still gifts, even if they don't fit my ridiculous definition of perfection. My struggle with OCD has at times imprisoned me in an impossible attempt to achieve perfection. I'm now learning to love all kinds of days that don't even come close to 71º & Sunny.

Please leave me a comment below. I really want to know what you are thinking!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Facebook Boundaries: To Friend Or Not To Friend?

This post is an ERP that I'm doing as part of my therapy homework. Yes, I have to address "The Facebook Issue." Which for the average person, might be nothing more than a blip on the radar, but for me, it is an issue. A people pleasing issue. A hyper-responsibility, fear of hurting other people's feelings issue. A "if I don't 'friend' someone, I'm a bad Christian" issue. A "they won't like me if I say no" issue.

Boundaries were completely non-existent for me. Though I tried to be careful to never step over anyone else's boundaries, I didn't know how to protect my own, and I allowed them to be trampled on at times. And I resented it. But, I was too fearful to do anything about it. Or if I did get angry enough about it, I would still be afraid to respond for fear of being disliked, or a "bad" Christian, or even worse, I would respond, but I would react to the person in ways that I would regret later.

Many years ago, I read just the first couple of chapters of a book that literally changed my life. It is titled, (shocker!) Boundaries. I highly recommend it. Well, at least the first few chapters that I read! The great thing is that it was written by Christians, so I felt a bit more comforted that I was not being unChrist-like by setting boundaries.

Though this book was very helpful, it has still been difficult to hold tight to my own boundaries. This has been especially difficult in the area of Facebook lately. When I first joined Facebook, I decided that it would be a place for me to share things with my family and my actual, in-person friends. I thought that decision through carefully, and at the time, I felt like it was a good decision. To be honest, I still do.

I've met SO many wonderful people through this blog and through a private Facebook support group, and I've been "friended" a whole lot recently. And though I've wavered back and forth, I've decided to stick with my original plan of keeping my circle to family and personal friends. But, oh, has that been hard! So often, when I've been friended, I've thought, "Oh, but this person seems so lovely, and I would really like to get to know them in their own personal life, and well, maybe they'll think I'm a snob if I say no, etc." I think you get the thought process here . . .

My wonderful psychologist has challenged me to stay true to my initial goal of Facebook. She agrees with me that it's a healthy boundary, and she recognizes that it's healthy for me to have to, gulp, say no to people. It may be healthy, but that doesn't make it easy. But, like any other ERP I've had to undertake to get my life back, it does get easier with practice.

So here goes.

I care so very deeply for all of you, my fellow bloggers and readers. Truly, I really, really do. And I love the online relationships I have formed. And they surely are real relationships to me. But I'm going to have to keep my Facebook account to my family and in-person friends. I really hope you understand. Hugs. Monique

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Gift Of Being Kind To Yourself, Part Two

Though I started this blog with the intent of helping others, a really pleasant by-product is how writing about my experiences of living with OCD have been helpful for me as well. In particular, while composing Part One of this post, I began to realize that I was starting to slip back into old patterns of speaking harshly to myself. And when my friend C asked if I could give some examples of speaking nicely to myself, I realized that it was an opportunity to do some good 'ole cognitive restructuring.

1. "I'm a filthy, disgusting, pig." Yes, I've said this to myself. More times than I can possibly remember. I have Contamination OCD. I often think that dirt/germs = bad/gross/unloveable. So if I don't keep my house as neat and clean as I think it should be, I think that it is a reflection on me personally, and that no one would want to be around me if they knew my house wasn't up to certain standards. So when I catch myself saying these types of things in my mind, I stop and say, "No, the state of your house has nothing to do with your value as a human being. Do you think other people have more or less value based on the state of their home? Of course not. What makes you any different?"

2. "I'm such a(n) idiot/stupid/dummy." Whenever I make a silly mistake, my first reaction is to say this kind of thing. Sometimes, I'm not even really serious when I say this stuff. I'm almost kind of joking. But you know what? Even jokingly referring to myself this way is unhealthy. When I catch myself saying these things, I stop, and rephrase it. "No, you are not _______. It was an oversight. It was human. Nothing more, nothing less."

3. "You're so arrogant. Who do you think you are?" Because of my experience with a severe anxiety disorder, and my level of recovery, and the fact that I am so open about it (because I genuinely want to help others), I get asked a lot of questions, by a lot of people. So I try very hard to share my truly honest opinions about what helped me and what I think constitutes good treatment. Of course, I'm no expert, and I always clearly state that, but people still seem interested in hearing about my own experiences, and my resulting opinions. And I'm so incredibly happy to help. But my Hyper-Responsibility OCD often kicks in and tells me that I'm giving bad information. And that I'm an arrogant fool for thinking that anything I have to say is legit. And the Scrupulosity OCD in me tells me that I'm not being humble enough, and because I don't read my Bible nearly enough (and I really don't - that's not Scrup talking) and I don't pray enough, so who am I to be saying anything? I'm clearly not leaning upon God enough to lead me in speaking to others. What arrogance! This is a time when heaping guilt upon myself is not helpful. I think it's better to say, "Well yes, I do need to increase Bible reading and praying. And I need to make a plan to do that. But I also trust that God is so much bigger than me, and that He can still do good things in these circumstances in spite of me. And the past is the past."

4. "You're a lazy slob." Yep, I stay in bed a lot. I procrastinate. A lot. Am I lazy? A lot of times I think so. But then I remember how I was before anxiety and depression really got hold of me. And I realize that depression is a beast that can hold you down. And I also realize that procrastination is probably just another word for avoidance, anxiety style. So I remind myself that I can't possibly keep up with others who don't have anxiety and depression. I try to say, "You are human and you are battling significant issues that maybe those around you are not. Comparison is deadly. Instead, you should try to focus on what will get you healthier for the future. Again, the past is the past."

In case you want more food for thought on the subject, I found a really cool post about speaking nicely to yourself that you may be interested in, just to get a little bit of a different viewpoint on the matter. My only critique on that post is that in my opinion, we shouldn't even think these things about ourselves.

Lastly, here's an important point. Let's say that everything mean that I said to myself was actually true. Does saying those things to myself actually help anything? Would it help me be more humble, or less lazy, or less stupid? Absolutely not! It would just keep me mired in the mud of self-loathing. As far as I know, a person enveloped in self-loathing is usually unable to move forward. So, whether I think I deserve it or not, I consider speaking to myself in a harsh or mean manner to be totally unacceptable because it is needlessly cruel, and frankly, unproductive. Give it a try to speak nicely to yourself. What have you got to lose?

Monday, July 21, 2014

ERP: An Absolute Necessity

The mere thought of Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is terrifying to most OCD sufferers. I first learned about ERP in 1996, but I avoided it until my life fell apart (for the second time) in 2009. Thirteen years. I wasted thirteen years of my life. I can honestly say that learning how to do ERP (under the guidance of an expert Cognitive Behavioral Therapist) was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It is a skill that I will now have with me forever. Literally changed my life.

A lot of anxiety sufferers desperately wish for a way around ERP. I know I sure did! To my knowledge, there just isn't one. At least not at this point in time. So, until something else comes around, CBT/ERP is the best way to go. Considering its necessity to recovery from anxiety disorders, maybe we need to reframe how we look at ERP. My friend Janet, of "ocdtalk," published a truly excellent post on ERP that I highly recommend. It may just change how you look at ERP.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Back On The Couch

I'm back in therapy. And contrary to the title of my post, I don't actually lay down on a couch in session. It's probably a good thing, because I'm pretty certain I would not be able to stay awake for very long in that position!

I like to think of this as CBT, Part Deux. While I do have a reasonable amount of OCD left in my life, it is not the reason I've sought out help again. In fact, I feel like it is due to the success of my past treatment that I am finally in this particular head space. I've had enough OCD cobwebs cleared out, that it has made room for other longstanding issues to bubble to the surface, namely my decades old struggle with depression. I can recall living with bouts of depression since I was a teenager. It has ebbed and flowed throughout my life like a slow moving roller coaster. A lot of the time, it simply simmers at a low boil in the background, not presenting any major life problems per se, but it is active just enough to keep me from moving forward. However, over the past year, on most days, it takes tremendous effort to get out of bed. Some days, I cannot muster the energy to do it at all.

I want to be clear and state that I am okay. It's not that deep, harrowing type of depression. I know what that feels like, and I thank God that is not where I am. I'm just running on low to no energy, and well, the world seems like differing shades of gray and blah. I know what the culprit is, so I'm dealing with it, rather than ignoring it. Though, frankly, I would prefer to ignore it.

I'm realizing that my self image is probably a big factor behind my depression. I struggle terribly with feeling unloveable and unworthy, and with feeling desperate for the approval of others or, rather, the approval of every human being I ever cross paths with. However, I'm very passionate about certain subjects, and I often feel like I must speak up about things, and yet, this causes me so much angst. This is because I fear alienating others when doing this. It's a terrible inward battle. I feel like I'm failing to serve God and/or protect others if I don't speak up, but then I worry that I'm offending others if I do. Of course, I try to be tactful and kind when speaking up, but still. So what am I to do? Care less? Go along to get along? That does not seem right. And yet, my psychologist has told me that I act like I'm responsible for helping and saving everyone around me. And clearly I'm not. Ugh. Rock and a hard place.

Logically, I know that as a Christ follower, my worth is found only in the truth that I am created, and loved, by God. Yet . . . my heart doesn't quite seem to receive that message. I'm not sure it ever truly did.

I'm also discovering that some cognitive distortions are creeping back into my thinking, so my psychologist is working with me to start cognitively restructuring my thoughts away from automatically negative territory. In fact, she told me that we are working on a higher plane of restructuring now, than when I was being treated for the OCD. I view that as a positive thing, as it means that I did actually understand and absorb the previous CBT treatment I received.

While I know that spilling one's most private struggles and turmoils is not something that everyone is comfortable with, I have found it to be quite therapeutic and cathartic to share this. I lived with deep, dark secrets of my illness for so many years that I never want to return to that. On that note, thanks for listening.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Gift Of Being Kind To Yourself

I'm sure I've talked about this more than once before, but it was so critical to my recovery that I feel it needs to be re-stated. Again and again.

Being nice to yourself. Letting yourself off the hook. Treating yourself with kindness. Whatever you want to call it, I'm referring to treating yourself in a way that is intentionally positive and uplifting.

Guilt and shame are good things if they bring sin (anything that separates us from God) to our awareness, and if they motivate us to repent (change our ways). However, I believe that beyond that, guilt and shame are no longer useful and that Satan (the devil, the evil one, pick your favorite title) can step in and use them to torment us with thoughts of how "bad" we are. Hey, he's not referred to as the "accuser" in the Bible for nothing! For the majority of my life, I carried guilt and shame around like I was a card carrying member of the "Beat Yourself Up Club." My perfectionism taunted me and convinced me that I absolutely had to be hard on myself, or else I would behave even worse than I thought I was already.

Finally, one day, after discussing this problem for what seemed like the millionth time over a million sessions, my psychologist asked me a question. "OK, so you are hard on yourself now. Does it help you to live and behave the way you want to live, or how you think you should live?" I thought about it for a minute and that's when it hit me. I just knew that the answer was a big, fat NO. I realized that what I was doing was obviously not working. And of course, I also knew that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result. So right then and there, I decided to be nicer to myself. I figured that I had nothing to lose by trying it. It took some practice, but over time I started to talk differently to myself. Whenever I made a mistake, or sinned, I would only say to myself the same types of things that I would say to a friend who was in the same situation. Of course, if I had really done something wrong, I would apologize or make amends to the offended party, but beyond that, I made an effort to speak nicely to, and think nicely about, myself. Whether I felt that I deserved it or not.

Something strange started to happen after that. I actually felt better. Then I found it easier to behave in the ways that I wanted to behave, or how I felt I should behave. And even sweeter? Because I became less critical of myself, I found that I became less critical of others too. It had never occurred to me that the two were related.

This was one of the very best things I learned in therapy. It literally changed my life. Now, I am counting on God's grace and forgiveness like never before. I'm having to trust that He means what He says when He says I'm forgiven. If He can forgive me, then who am I to withhold forgiveness? I have not given myself a license to sin, but I have given myself a license to be the only thing I can be: human.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.                                                                                   1 John 1:9 ESV

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Fear = Lies

Recently, Jon Acuff, a witty and often funny, Christian writer and blogger, posted this on his Facebook page:

The number of people who have their lives perfectly figured out = "The entire population of the planet minus me." A lie fear tells me often.

I love this, because if you read a lot of Jon's stuff, it's easy to think he has it all together. Yet, very often, he will whip up little gems like this about fear. Looks can be quite deceiving, can't they?